For the latest of our lockdown-reflections mini-series, we’ve been in conversation with Nathan Doe, of the popular homewares business, John Doe of Diss. This family firm first began selling carpets in the East Anglian region in 1983, and now has a workforce of some 50 employees.
Looking back pre-Covid Nathan, how was business for John Doe? Were things looking good for the company?
Absolutely. We were doing well and were recruiting in order to match the demand of sales we had, particularly on things like carpet fitting. In fact, it was partly because of this great momentum of growth that we’d started to realise the need for a more structured approach to HR – and why we ended up engaging MAD-HR.
How tough has it been to navigate the period of the various lockdowns over the last year? As a business in retail, you’ve obviously had to face lots of closures and reopenings?
In all, we’ve probably been closed for seven months of the last year. Initially we shut straight away, because we fell into the category of being ‘non essential’, and then we opened across a lot of the summer, closed again in November and have then been closed since the December lockdown.
Given your scope to work within people’s homes during phases of the lockdown – specifically for things like carpet fitting – presumably you could have kept operating more fully for some of those months?
Yes, we could have. But these are the decisions you make as owners of a business, and with your staff. We had lots of conversations with our employees about how they felt in terms of safety and protection, and we all agreed that even though some of our competitors would carry on doing work in homes, it wasn’t something we wanted to risk doing while the virus was still spreading as it was.
Do you feel specific elements of the government support have been vital to your company’s preservation?
Certainly furlough was hugely important to us. We furloughed 45 staff at one point and if it wasn’t for that option, we would definitely have been looking at significant pay cuts or lay-offs in order to survive.
How important has the support of the MAD-HR team and their various resources been in this period?
Covid presented us with lots of additional HR admin issues, so it was incredibly reassuring to have access to the toolkit, and to be able to be in touch with the team on communicating to our staff, managing the furlough process, and looking at we could recruit in line with increasing order bookings for the future. We’ve actually recruited four people over the last month, and MAD-HR have helped in that process and kept us confident that we’re taking all the right steps and being compliant.
The information they offer is invaluable.
What other HR functions or inputs are you, or will you, be discussing with MAD-HR as you move forward out of lockdown?
We’re already talking with the team at MAD-HR about how we can work to create some kind of mental health scheme to support our staff. Given everything we’ve all experienced, we feel that’s a priority.
How do you and your staff feel about the future? Are things looking promising?
The staff and myself are so excited to get back. We’re feeling positive about what orders we have on the books, and can’t wait to see more of our customers again. It’s a great time for John Doe as we’ve carried out a refurbishment while we’ve been closed, so as far as we’re concerned, we’ll open the doors again after lockdown and be full steam ahead!